They pulled and they heaved and even employed a crane, but the crew members of the M/V A.V. Sandusky couldn’t haul in their bounty yesterday: a huge string of illegal fishing nets filled with rotting, stinking fish.
Yes, the Natural Resources Police are on the trail of poachers again.
After a winter in which the police seized hundreds of yards of illegal nets packed with 13 tons of rockfish, yet another net was spotted on Sunday.
Recreational fishermen found this net, which, like the others, was illegally anchored to the bottom. It also was set well out of season – netting for rockfish ended in February and no commercial catch of rockfish is allowed now.
“That’s a good example of how we need the public’s help in locating the illegal nets,” said Sgt. Art Windemuth, a Natural Resources Police spokesman. “The more eyes we have looking, the better.”
Police went out on Sunday to investigate the net, which was submerged smack dab in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, about midway between Tilghman Island and North Beach.
Greg Lubar of Washington, D.C., watched as the Natural Resources Police struggled with the nets on Sunday.
Lubar had been fishing aboard his 24-foot boat, Super Lube, in the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association tournament with friends Chris Jacobs and Steve Spartan and son Zachary when several lines on his boat and others in the area snagged on the nets. He was impressed with the NRP’s quick and determined response.
“They were working for hours,” he said. “They were leaning over the sides, pulling the nets by hand. The birds were everywhere” eating the dead fish.
The police got about 600 yards of net out of the water before deeming it too big to handle. Lubar said the police were in a Boston Whaler-type boat and an inflatable, Zodiac-type boat.
So the police called in a bigger boat: the Sandusky, an 80-foot-long, steel-hulled icebreaker and buoy tender.
The Sandusky and her crew ventured out on the bay yesterday morning, plowing through heavy seas and strong winds.
Capt. Shawn Orr, engineer Ben Gillis and mate Jordan Melvin attempted to haul out the net, which the police had marked with a floating buoy.
First Gillis and Melvin tried to haul the net in by a line. When that didn’t work, they attached a crane to hoist the net up.
The blue mesh was twisted. with big, rotten, pungent fish sticking out.
Their mouths were agape, the eyes glassed over, guts spilling out. A few croaker, mud shad and horseshoe crabs were mixed along with the trophy-size rockfish, also called striped bass.
The net and its bounty had probably been in the water for months.
“They’re nasty, for sure,” Gillis said.
The net was so tangled, it was difficult for the Sandusky crane to pull it aboard and into a Dumpster on the deck. The tides worked against the effort, and heavy seas and 20-knot winds caused the shallow-draft Sandusky to pitch back and forth.
“It’s folded in on itself. It makes it that much harder,” Gillis said. Even if the net was in good shape, they probably were looking at a four-hour job, he said.
The Sandusky crew placed a larger buoy on the net, in hopes of keeping boaters, watermen and fishermen away. They’ll come back later this week or next when the weather clears.
Meanwhile, the hunt continues for the poachers.
Windemuth said the Natural Resources Police are working with federal officials because the illegal activity may stretch beyond state lines. They’ve secured subpoenas, executed search warrants and conducted interviews. Windemuth said the police have leads and suspects.